“Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them” as the saying goes. The accuracy of this statement is something that’s up for debate. But one thing that can’t be denied is there have been some pretty big blunders made during election campaigns over the years.
There are countless examples of both Governments and Oppositions putting their foot in it quite spectacularly in the past. So as the battle lines are drawn for the 2015 UK General Election and David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg prepare to go to war, we’re publishing a series of articles on how to lose an election…
Criticise the voters
Gordon Brown was arguably already a beaten man when he arrived in Rochdale as part of Labour’s 2010 general election campaign. Labour were being trounced by the Conservatives in the opinion polls and it seemed Mr Brown’s all too brief tenure as prime minister after taking over from Tony Blair in 2007 would soon be coming to an end.
But if there was still a bit of life left in the old dog, it was kicked out of him soon after his unplanned encounter with life-long Labour voter Gillian Duffy. The pensioner collared Mr Brown as he was being interviewed on live TV on the streets of her home town, raising her concerns with him about Eastern European immigration.
The then prime minister handled Ms Duffy quite effectively, listening to her concerns before discussing them with her head on. It was when he got into his car to be driven to his next engagement that day that things really started to unravel.
Still rigged up to a Sky News microphone, Mr Brown mumbled to his aide: “That was a disaster. Well I just … should never have put me in with that woman. Whose idea was that?” When asked by his aide what she said, he replied: “Oh everything. She was just a sort of bigoted woman. She said she used to be Labour. I mean it’s just ridiculous.”
What Mr Brown didn’t realise was everything he was saying was still being picked up by the live mic. And he didn’t find out until several hours later when his words were played back to him while giving an interview live on BBC Radio 2. Pictures showed the former Labour leader with his head in his hands as he realised he’d just made the highest-profile mistake of that doomed campaign.
To be fair to poor old Gordon, he made a prompt, personal apology to Ms Duffy in her own home, before apologising to all voters on live TV on the front of her doorstep. He wasn’t the first or last politician to be critical of the electorate in private, and he could have said a heck of a lot worse!
But the damage had been well and truly done and this has to go down as one of the biggest election campaign blunders of UK political history. Labour were booted out of power the next month and Brown stepped down from frontline politics.